Knicked and dented, scratched and scuffed, a large wooden table fills my youngest daughter’s dining room. When I sit there to write a note or eat lunch, the memories flood back.
This table was handed down through my husband’s family to rest in our kitchen for 25 years. What a process unfolded around it—from a newborn held in arms while a parent grabbed a bite, to that baby become a college student bringing home his friends from the rugby team for the weekend. The four small children who once ringed it, eager for conversation and meals, gradually left for different parts of the country, careers and their own families. I can still imagine them there, laughing, telling the stories of their days, hoping there’d be cookie bars for dessert.
Through a complicated dismantling and reassembling, the table moved from Colorado to where it now has a view of San Francisco bay and the Oakland hills. We’ve all moved to various locations, and what my dad at grace before dinner would call “our small circle of affection” has lived in many states, expanded now to two.
The enduring miracle is how four littles learned the language of fidelity, the grammar of care. They knew for certain that no matter what happened that day at school or on the playground, the only admission ticket for the table was hunger. They were nurtured not only by the meals, which were often haphazard, last-minute arrangements of hot dogs and macaroni-n-cheese, but by a grounded sense of belonging.
Their fallible, tired, bumbling parents couldn’t claim the credit for the children’s admirable careers in non-profits or their own families now. But the divine parent was also present at that table, creating, enlivening, guiding, protecting, enriching, nourishing, infusing with humor and perspective. A presence never deserved, always embraced.
There were probably squabbles around that table, arguments over the last roll or who got the car Saturday, but fortunately we weren’t a family whose meals were too seasoned with tension or spiced with anxiety. One measure of ongoing dedication is how we still enjoy lingering at the table, with grandchildren interrupting the conversation, but still delighted to be together. Many families are re-discovering now how much they missed that intimacy of meals forbidden during lockdown.
When I’d underscore the importance of the family meal during workshops for parents, I’d hear the long litany of what makes it difficult: work, sports, meetings all oddly scheduled at the dinner hour. I’d respond with the statistics, showing how many National Merit winners and high-achievers valued dinner together as a key part of growing up. “And if it’s important,” I’d smile. “You’ll find time for it.”
To the parents scrambling to cook after an exhausting work day, while juggling phone calls and children’s demands, I’d offer all encouragement: it’s worth it. And someday, may you too see a kitchen table marked by scars, and fill with gratitude.